Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

See better, Sugar

Sir: We the undersigned wish to condemn Baron Sugar of Clapton's threatened legal action against our colleague Quentin Letts for calling him a 'telly peer' who 'doesn't seem to have an enormous intellect' on LBC on 20 July. According to a letter Mr Letts received from Herbert Smith, Lord Sugar will issue a writ against Mr Letts for libel unless he pays his legal costs to date, donates an undisclosed sum to a charity and gives a written undertaking never to criticise him again.

When journalists have been sued by public figures in the past - particularly by Members of Parliament - the convention has been to sue the newspaper or broadcaster that provided them with a platform, not to pursue the journalist personally. In this way, Britain's libel laws have been kept on a level playing field, since few individual journalists can afford to fight a legal battle on their own.

However, Lord Sugar has dispensed with this convention. No corresponding action has been threatened against LBC, which means that if Mr Letts decides not to bow to Lord Sugar's demands, he faces potentially ruinous costs a proportion - as much as a third - of which he wouldn't recover, even if he won.

The absence of a First Amendment in Britain means that we depend to a great extent on the observance of legal convention to preserve our free speech. If parliamentarians are now going to threaten to sue individual journalists personally, members of the press will be inhibited from scrutinising them in future. This is a particularly dangerous development, given how many journalists are now working as freelancers.

We urge Lord Sugar to withdraw his threat so we can continue to write and speak freely about public figures.

Roger Alton, Matthew d'Ancona, Liz Anderson, Martin Bright, Jeremy Clarke, Nick Cohen, Nicholas Coleridge, Lloyd Evans, James Forsyth, Julia Hobsbawm, Rachel Johnson, Dylan Jones, Mary Killen, India Knight, Rod Liddle, John Micklethwait, Fraser Nelson, Matthew Parris, Stephen Pollard, Hugo Rifkind, Andrew Roberts, Alan Rusbridger, Sebastian Shakespeare, Paul Staines, Sarah Standing, Mary Wakefield, Toby Young

Lost sovereignty

Sir: Your correspondent Mr Tom Sackville (Letters, 1 August) assures us that 'We are still a sovereign nation.' Under which soundproof bell jar does the gentleman reside? No country, 75 per cent of whose primary legislation is enacted and enforced not by its own elected government but by an unelected regime in a foreign land, and in whose councils the country has an 8 per cent voting bloc, can achieve the first criterion of sovereignty.

Still, in politics as in journalism a comforting myth will always trump a disagreeable reality. So let us simply not mention it.

As for the American extradition treaty, you should compare it to the European Arrest Warrant which is far more draconian. No proven facts nor prima facie case are required. A European examining magistrate (not a government) need only issue the arrest warrant upon a deposed allegation. Then follows the EAW. Against this there is no appeal (Mr McKinnon has been in appeal for years) nor any British court hearing at all.

Compliance is mandatory and the accused must be transferred (under duress if need be) to the magistrate's jurisdiction where he may be held in remand in custody virtually sine die. This was passed without a debate being offered to, or demanded by, our 'sovereign' parliament and effectively abolishes the right of habeas corpus. Nowadays, gentlemen, John Bull does what he is damned well told.

Frederick Forsyth Hertford, Herts

Drama lesson

Sir: I'd like to correct a misapprehension that could be caused by Joan Collins's Diary (1 August). …

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